At some point during my reporting adventures in Armenia, I found myself in a Yezidi Kurdish village, thanks to a good friend, also a journalist, who had worked in the region for years.
After a long drive outside the capital, we arrived in Alagyaz. Seeing unfamiliar faces wandering the streets, a woman came out of her house to investigate.
“Come in, come in,” she said with a smile.
She looked like my grandmother — same white-copper hair, same knitted socks.
“Come have some watermelon and coffee with me.”
She insisted, but my friend and I looked at each other and politely declined, not wanting to cause her trouble. The roads weren’t only empty, they were post-Soviet barren. We walked, spoke to several people, had Armenian coffee, met grandkids and daughters and nieces, and then we got hungry.
We bought stale imitation Cheetos from the only corner store in town. Then the clouds opened up. Shivering, we ran from under the trees, up toward the houses, in search of our watermelon woman.
Knock. Knock. Knock. Silence.
She had departed. I stood in front of her door, a notebook over my head, with regret and water-logged shoes.
It is a short memory, filled with much sweetness. I can’t explain why, but it was the first thing I remembered when Nowruz, the Persian New Year, arrived this year. A holiday rooted in Zoroastrian origin, Nowruz marks the beginning of spring and is celebrated not only in Iran but also in Azerbaijan and India and across Kurdistan and Central Asia.
Nowruz, literally meaning “new day,” is my favorite holiday, partly because of its beautiful message and also because of its deeply ritualistic characteristics.
There’s the family visitations, gift-giving, the jumping over fire as a way of cleansing any negativity in your life in order to make room for the good — and the Haft-Sin, a table setting with symbolic items meant to represent rebirth, love, health, patience and more.
There is so much to do, to prepare for, and none of it feels contrived as if concocted as a marketing ploy to sell aisles upon aisles of candy or extravagant gifts.
It is just a simple gesture, a time to reflect and hope for the best, and a good excuse to build a fire in your backyard to jump over.
A few hours before Nowruz began this year, I went to visit my grandma, who was recovering from an illness that temporarily landed her in the hospital.
“Can you believe my luck?” she said from her bed.
After some silence while the flowers I had brought were arranged in a spare vase, she continued:
“Well, I guess sometimes we have to go through the darkness to cherish the parts of life that are really sweet.”
I remembered Alagyaz, the Kurdish village, the woman who looked like my grandma and had offered us watermelon and coffee, the clouds bursting over us while we looked for shelter.
Sometimes, we have to go through darkness to cherish the parts of life that are really sweet, my grandma had said, so fragile and strong all at the same time in the stark white room she was lying in.
Sometimes, we are filled with regret about watermelon and coffee; sometimes we can appreciate the sweetness of life from a hospital bed.
May every day of the new year be filled with warmth, hope and strength for you and your loved ones. Happy Nowruz.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.